"Tara's looking for you," Spike said. He had rolled the Abyssinian kitten onto its back and was playing with it. The kitten was just about giggling with delight, squirming and swatting with velvet paws at the fingers tickling its ribs so deliciously. Buffy grinned at the two of them.
"You wouldn't really eat that kitten. Big softy."
"Hey! If I could bite anything, I wouldn't waste time biting kittens."
He grinned at her. "Just Slayers. One sip of that blood's all I need for the day."
She laughed. "Big turn on for you."
He came and licked the bite mark on her neck teasingly. "And for you too, isn't that right, Slayer?"
She shivered and leaned against him. "Oh, yeah."
He looked down at her, his eyes smiling and very tender. But she saw the darkness behind them, the sadness that never went away despite everything she tried to do.
He kissed her softly. "Doesn't matter, Slayer."
They broke apart when they heard Tara and Dawn coming down the stairs.
"Hey, Spike," said Dawn, nimbly avoiding the kitten racing up the stairs. "Would you mind taking me over to Janice's place? Buffy said I could spend the night."
"Yeah, sure." Spike headed towards the front door, glancing back at Buffy over his shoulder as he went. "This won't take long. Don't go on patrol until I get back."
Buffy glanced at Tara as the door closed behind Spike and Dawn. Tara looked very sad and tired, and had done so the last couple of days, ever since Willow moved out of Revello Drive and back into her parents' house.
"How are you, Tara?"
"Not coping." Tara sat down on the couch. "She wanted me to move into the Rosenbergs' with her, but I said I would only if she stopped using magic so much. I-I kinda gave her an ultimatum. Stop using magic for a week and then we'll see."
"That sounds fair," said Buffy, sitting down beside her.
"She said a week would be easy. She'd suggested a month. It was her idea to stop like that. But today I felt a surge on the ring." She held out her hand with the silver ring on her middle finger. "I could feel the charm repelling a spell. I think she may have tried one on you and Spike as well."
"It's a good thing you gave us these rings."
"N-not even two days. Oh, Buffy, what are we going to do?"
"I don't know. I think Giles is up to something though. I caught the tail-end of a conversation he and Spike were having."
"Giles doesn't have any powers."
"But he knows people who do."
"And Anya's disappeared too," Tara sighed. "Xander's going crazy looking for her. And the more crazy he gets, the more he blames Spike for everything."
"Not himself. Oh, no."
"He keeps saying that Spike has you under a thrall. I told him it wasn't so. I mean, I'd be able to tell. But he won't listen."
"Willow and he are both very good at not listening to anything they don't want to hear, aren't they?"
Tara nodded sadly, then glanced up with a happier look on her face. "What I wanted to talk to you about though...I've got some good news."
"We can sure use that."
"I did those tests on you that you asked me to. There's nothing wrong with you."
Tara smiled at her. "Nothing important. I've done every test possible. I'm sorry it took so long, but I knew you'd want to be certain. But, truly, there's nothing wrong with you."
Buffy jerked to her feet. "Then why can Spike hit me without his chip going off? Why can he bite me? "
Tara's mouth dropped open. "Spike bit you?"
"Well, uh, during, uh..."
"Oh!" Tara turned bright red. "Willow said you two were...but I thought it was just Xander being..."
"Tara! How can Spike hit me unless there's something wrong with me?"
"Well, you are different. Just slightly. Not enough to matter." Tara wrung her hands, trying to find some way to explain properly. "Shifting you out of...from where you were...funneling your essence back into your body...i-it altered you on a basic molecular level. Just enough to confuse the sensors or whatever in Spike's chip. But it's all surfacey physical stuff. It wouldn't have any more effect than a...than a bad sunburn."
"I didn't come back wrong?"
"No, you're the same Buffy. With a deep tropical cellular tan," she finished lightly and smiled.
"Oh, no!" Buffy fell into a chair and put her head in her hands.
Tara stared at her. "I thought you'd be happy!"
"I am! But...Oh, Tara! I've messed things up so bad!"
"I don't understand."
"I thought if Spike could hurt me, I wasn't human because he wouldn't have been able to hurt a human without pain. So I had to be a demon. And...and demons don't feel, so it was okay for me to act so unfeeling and uncaring to you all. But it was me all the time. It was me being so mad at all of you for bringing me back."
"Well, you had a right to be," said Tara ruefully. "We messed up, not you."
"Oh, I messed up! I didn't want to feel, because feeling meant that I was alive. And Spike kept insisting on doing things to make me feel. And I was angry with him for that. So I used him, Tara. And told myself it was okay to do that because I was a demon and that's what demons do."
"Willow and Xander and me. We're so good at rationalizing things. So good at living on that river in Egypt! What's wrong with the three of us? I was angry at Spike for insisting on bringing me back into the world and so I used him. I slept with him and I gave him nothing back but sensation and I didn't care. Didn't care for him at all. Just used him. And he loves me."
"He does," said Tara gently. "He really does, Buffy."
"I know! He loves me and I treated him like that. It was...it was...cruel."
"Yes," said Tara painfully, out of her own experience with Willow.
Buffy saw her face. "It's like that for you, isn't it? But you drew the line. Spike won't. He should, but he won't."
"No, he won't. Because it's not exactly the same, Buffy. Willow needs to be pulled up short. You don't. You just have to wake up."
"This thing with him...I have to stop it."
"How will that help? It will only cut him up more."
"Oh, God!" Buffy put a hand over her eyes. "He's been waiting for me to do it. Bracing himself for the pain. I can see it. It will hurt him and I don't know how bad. Maybe too much...But I can't...I have to..."
"Do you want to stop, Buffy?"
"The truth? No. I don't want to. But how can I keep on using him like this? I have to stop."
"Do you care for him?"
"I..." But Buffy wouldn't answer, wouldn't meet Tara's grave eyes.
"Don't think of anybody else's opinion. Don't think of us Scoobies or Dawn or Giles. What's right for you is what matters. Consider carefully what you want. What you are and what he is. What others are."
"I'm a Slayer. And he's a vampire. And others are human or demon. What are you saying, Tara?"
"I'm not sure." Tara frowned down at her hands. "This Slayer-vampire business. You were willing to overlook it when it was Angel." Then she caught her breath at Buffy's reproachful look and flushed vividly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring that up."
"Angel has a soul," said Buffy almost under her breath.
"Spike acts as if he does."
They looked at each other.
"It doesn't make sense." Buffy muttered. "How does Spike do that? He shouldn't be like that."
"How does Angel act without a soul?"
Buffy laughed bitterly. "You know the answer. He turns into Angelus."
"Spike doesn't go around being Spikelus."
Buffy flung her arms up helplessly. "He acts as if he has a soul and he doesn't."
"He's got something that takes the place of one. The ability to love, maybe. Profoundly, unselfishly, unconditionally."
Buffy looked away. Tara sighed.
"That's so important, you know," Tara said sadly and Buffy saw that she was thinking of Willow. "Love that comes to you from the outside, unsought, unasked for...You can't force it. You can't compel it. And if it means something to you when it comes, you keep it. You don't throw it away. It's too precious."
"How does one keep it?" Buffy whispered.
"I don't deserve it," said Buffy.
"You don't, " said Anya from the kitchen doorway. Apparently she had come in through the back.
"Anya!" both Buffy and Tara exclaimed. "Where have you been?"
"Xander's been worried about you," Tara added and Anya shrugged.
"Do him good. Was he really worried about me? Or was he worried about what he'd do without me? No more orgasms. Only got his ashes hauled once before me. That crazy Slayer, what was her name, Faith? Bust his cherry for him. Then I came along like an idiot and gave him all the orgasms he wanted. Well, it's going to be a long, long time before he has another. Not orgasm material, Xander. He's had it too easy. Human girls like to be courted, praised, made to feel good. They don't like being put down and stepped on. Which is what he's used to doing with me."
"You sound very bitter," Tara said gently. She didn't sound like Anya at all, so scornful and angry.
"I am! I was a demon for a thousand years. I've seen every type of human and demon condition there is. Turn human and get treated like dirt, get all hung up on a silly little boy who wouldn't have been worth a second of my time if I had still been what I was! Stupid freaking human hormones! You'd think I would have learned my lesson with Olaf."
"Get treated like dirt by all of you. Not you, Tara. You were decent. But by all the others. Even you, Buffy." She glared at Buffy. "I wasn't good enough. I didn't have a soul for a thousand years. What is it with you humans and this soul thing? You think it makes you so special, think it excuses everything. Spike and me, we try and we try. But it's never enough. We're just dirt. Several billion humans on this planet and every single one of them is better than us. Every serial killer and murderer and rapist and wino on the planet is better than us, aren't they? Because they have a soul! Doesn't matter what they do with that freaking soul."
There were tears running down Buffy's cheeks. Was this the way she made Spike feel?
"Anya, I'm so sorry!"
"You should be." She turned suddenly, her eyes sparkling. "Ooo! Now we're going to have fun! Witchy and her puppy-dog have arrived. I can hear them at the front door."
A thunderous banging had begun. Xander was shouting, "Buffy! We know he's in there! Let us in!"
"What's Michelin Man making such a fuss about?" asked Spike in surprise, coming through from the kitchen, having apparently come through the back yard as Anya had.
"God alone knows," muttered Buffy, heading for the front door. "Did you get Dawn to Janice's okay?"
"Yeah. Well, hey, look who's back!" He grinned at Anya. "Lost a little something, have you?"
Anya scowled at where Buffy was letting Xander and Willow in. "And it's going to stay that way. Got my head together at last. And I'm going to keep it that way."
"Can't really blame you, pet."
"There he is!" Xander stormed into the living room, then stopped short. "Anya!"
Anya raised a scornful brow at him.
"Anya, where have you been? I've been looking everywhere for you!"
"With friends. Which you're not."
"Anya, I love you!"
"You're an emotionally stunted adolescent who doesn't know the meaning of the word. Why have you brought the Wicked Witch of the West? Are you going to adjust my memories too? Turn me into your sex slave as well as Buffy? You'd like that. Two of us at your beck and call. Your every moronic teenage fantasy come true."
Anya daintily gave him the finger.
Willow was frowning at Tara. "What did you do?"
Tara looked back steadily. "How would you know I did something unless you tried to throw a spell? A week, Willow? You didn't even last two days."
Willow flushed. "It wasn't like that!"
"Was it for my own good? Making me forget about our fight. That's for your good, Willow, not mine. You're trying to use me and you don't even see that."
"I'm not! I'd never...!"
"You are." Tara shook her head sadly. "This isn't going to work."
"Don't say that! Sweetie, it will work! I'll make it work!"
"By another spell? No. And don't bother trying anything against Buffy or Spike either. I've protected them too. But you know that. You've already tried to change Buffy's memories. Tried to make both of them forget about each other."
"It didn't work," growled Xander.
Tara nodded. "I'm not as powerful as Willow. But I do have some talent."
"We'll do this the hard way then." Xander whipped a stake out of his pocket and advanced on Spike.
"Xander!" Buffy leaped forward, trying to get between him and Spike.
"It's his fault. All of it! Things would go back to normal if he's not there. You'll see once he's gone and the thrall's off, Buffy. You'll understand."
"There is no thrall!" Buffy and Tara shouted at the same time. Spike just slid smoothly away from Xander.
"All because of you," Xander was muttering. "Even Anya. Because of you. But you won't be able to hide behind Buffy's skirts forever."
"God, I wish I didn't have this chip in my head!" said Spike bitterly. "I'd rip you to shreds, you wanker. They'd be finding your body for weeks!"
"Done!" said Anya. There was a tinkle as a tiny piece of metal and silicon fell onto the floor in between Spike and Xander. Everybody stared at it, then turned to stare at Anya. For a second, her face still remained all skinless and veiny from when she did the spell, then it morphed back to her regular features. She smiled smugly at all of them and lifted the amulet she was wearing out from where it had lain hidden under the cloth of her top.
"You're a vengeance demon again?" exclaimed Buffy incredulously.
"Finally!" said Anya with immense satisfaction. "D'Hoffryn wouldn't let me be one before because I wasn't angry enough. This time, I was angry enough."
"Soul's gone," Spike nodded. "Told you she'd lost something."
"That's why you made the wish," said Buffy blankly.
"Actually, no. Wasn't even thinking about that when I said it. But now..." His gaze rose from the chip lying on the floor to Xander's stunned face and he started to smile slowly. The smile made the growing fangs, ridges and yellow eyes look even more vicious.
Xander went a sickly greenish-white.
"Can't play kick-the-Spike anymore, can ya, yella belly?"
He made a move towards a cringing Xander. But Buffy hit Xander first. He sailed across the room and crashed onto the couch.
"Oh, bollocks, pet!" Spike protested. "I wanted to do that!"
"You'd have killed him. I just wanted to teach him a lesson." She looked down at Xander where he lay on the couch, rubbing his jaw. "Am I getting through yet, Xander? You make a move on Spike, I hurt you. Got it?"
"You wouldn't do that if Angel were here," Xander flung at her. "You wouldn't even look at him if Angel were here."
Spike turned away. Buffy put out a hand to him quickly and he looked at her, his face back to his human features again. His eyes were very dark and still.
"Spike, that's not true."
"Your one true love. I'm only sensation, pet. I know that."
"You're more than that."
She didn't even know how to explain what he was to her. She kept thinking of what would have happened if Xander had been even a little faster, if he had managed to dust Spike before she could stop him. No more love and devotion. No more cool hands holding her so tenderly, that body worshiping hers, those eyes looking at her as if she were the only thing that mattered in the whole world. Without him...She didn't know what she would do without him.
"Can't stand Angel, but anything's better than Spike," Xander was muttering. "I wish he was here. He'd fix Spike. Why don't you grant me my wish if you're granting his?" he yelled at Anya.
"Wish for boils on your penis," retorted Anya scornfully. "That I'd grant."
"I wish Angel were here," said Willow suddenly and Xander beamed at her.
"No!" said Buffy sharply.
"No," Anya agreed. "The only time I'm ever going to grant anything Xander Harris wants is if it's excruciatingly painful to him."
She smiled sweetly at Xander and he cringed.
"Angel is who you really love, Buffy," Willow was arguing. "If he were here, you'd see that. It's only because he's not here that you've let yourself fall into this unhealthy relationship with Spike."
Buffy looked at her, frowning. She thought of what it would be like to have Angel back. All that brooding and her constantly trying to figure out a way to get him out of it, constantly worrying about him. All that angst and agony all over again. No more of that. No.
And what else would there be no more of?
No more steady, wordless support. There wasn't a second of the day that she didn't feel Spike with her, even when he wasn't physically present. Not a second when she couldn't figuratively put out a hand and lean against his unwavering strength. Instead, she would be holding Angel up, constantly coaxing him through all his numerous issues of guilt and redemption.
No more laughter and teasing and help on patrol. Angel never had helped with her patrols; he would tell her about a threat, but never fight the fight with her. She hadn't realized how much of a partnership patrols with Spike had become—until now when she thought of his not being there.
No more cool body in bed, loving her. Angel's curse prevented that. No more joy and rapture and laughter in bed.
No more Spike.
She couldn't do without Spike.
Was it selfish to be thinking only of herself like this? But the fact that she was even thinking like this meant that anything she had with Angel was over. She would never have thought like that before, hadn't thought to count the cost. She did now. It came to her that she wasn't counting the cost with Spike. She didn't care about the cost.
She had let Angel go a long time ago, but had never realized it. Angel was a stranger. He had his own life in L.A., just as she had hers here in Sunnydale. Their paths had diverged. There would be no coming back together again and she didn't even want that.
"I don't want Angel. I want Spike," she said wonderingly.
Spike turned and stared at her.
Willow's mouth opened to say something angrily and Xander jerked to his feet with a yell of frustration.
The front door opened and Giles came in, accompanied by a little, white-haired lady. Everybody gaped at them.
"Too much power," said the little lady to Giles. She looked like a Disney grandmother; all she needed was an apron and a wooden spoon. "Barely contained. Oh, there's a vengeance demon here as well. That's the extra. Just won your trinket, have you, dear?" she said to Anya. "I know how tempting it is to use it, but I really can't allow you to do that. Let's just mute it a little, shall we?"
"No!" exclaimed Anya, cupping her hands protectively around her amulet. "I'll just be leaving. I've got some catching up to do with a lot of old and...true friends. And I'm going to get some real orgasms. There's these couple of vamps I know who just love to party and I've really missed that vamp staying power!"
She cast a scornful glance at Xander and vanished.
"No!" howled Xander. "Anya!"
"Congratulations, boy," said the old lady. "I must say, it's quite an achievement to drive someone into giving up their soul and going back to being a vengeance demon again, all because of the way you treated her."
"Oh, yes, you did. You're responsible and no one else. Make no mistake about that. Take heart." She patted his shoulder. "She might forgive you. In a couple of years. Or decades. However long it takes you to grow up."
"Rose Poole, from a coven in Berkshire." She looked around at all of them, smiling. "But call me Rose."
Tara was staring at her with wide eyes. "How do you hold so much?"
"Power?" She smiled at Tara. "You accept. You're well on the way there yourself, child." Her gaze went over Tara's shoulder to a scowling Willow. "You don't like my saying that. You resent competition, don't you? That's a bad sign."
"There is no competition!" Willow flung at her.
"No one is as strong as you are. You're quite right. But strength isn't everything. Strength is only good for making people afraid of you. Is that what you want? To have everyone terrified of you?"
"Of course not!"
"You're going about it the wrong way then, my dear. Forcing people to do what you want."
"It's not what I want! It's what's right!"
"Who decides what's right? Just you? Whatever you might think, might is not right."
Willow's lips compressed as she bit back an angry answer.
"Any opposition angers you. You're losing yourself, child. You're becoming a tyrant. What if someone forced you to do things? Forced their will on you? How would that make you feel?"
Willow smiled tightly. "No one can. I've got more power than anybody."
"Power like a club. You don't understand. When one has magical abilities, being is more important than doing. You see, there's always someone or something stronger."
"No one is stronger than I am," said Willow scornfully.
Rose smiled gently at her. "Strength doesn't matter."
"God, you're smug! Of course it matters!" Willow's eyes had gone completely black. She smiled nastily. "Let me show you."
She flung out a hand at Rose, power blazing from it in a sizzling beam. Rose was thrown back against the wall.
"Willow, no!" everyone yelled in horror.
"She is strong," Rose remarked to Giles. A pale green, translucent shield had formed in front of her.
"Stronger than you," said Willow with satisfaction. Her beam was slowly eating through Rose's shield.
"Oh, yes," Rose agreed. "I don't deny that. But it doesn't matter, dear."
Spike caught Buffy and drew her back against the wall with him.
"A wizard's duel right in middle of your own home," he muttered. "That's all we need. Hey, look."
A translucent, green bell had appeared over Willow's head and was now sliding down over her.
"It's like a candle-snuffer," remarked Spike, fascinated.
"Very perceptive," said Rose. "That's exactly what it does. Puts out the fire."
Willow's beam had blinked out as the bell slid down past her hand. She had both her hands flung out now, trying to penetrate the translucent field of the bell. It reached her feet, sliding past her toes into the floor, then started to constrict.
"No!" Willow was starting to panic. "How...?"
"It's not just me, you see, child. It's all the coven, drawing strength from the earth and feeding that to one focus point. However strong you might be, you're not as strong as the earth."
"Don't hurt her!" Tara gasped. "Rose!"
Rose smiled at her. "We don't hurt people. Like you, we heal. We nurture."
The glowing bell had reached Willow and was shaping itself to her body. Now it started to sink itself into her, for a second making an intricate green pattern like a net that glimmered briefly, then faded into her skin and vanished.
"What have you done?" Willow gasped, flailing about her. "What have you done?"
"We've bound your power. It's still there within you, but you won't be able to use it for a while. It's a time-out, that's all. You're like a two-year-old, my dear. Throwing tantrums and wanting your own way. Time-outs are useful with two-year-olds. If you come with me to England and learn to use your power responsibly, you'll get it back."
"You can't coerce...!"
"But you were going to coerce us, Willow," said Giles sternly. "You even wanted to hurt Rose who'd done nothing to you. You have two choices. Learn how to use your power properly or live without it."
"I didn't mean...It's not fair!"
"Did you have to do it this way?" Tara cried. "Couldn't you have talked to her about it first?"
"We would have," said Rose. "But why would she listen to us if she wouldn't listen to you? And time is short. There's a death coming, because of that resurrection spell that she did. We want to prevent that."
"I knew it," Spike muttered. "I felt it."
"But I took care of that!" Willow cried. "I fixed it!"
"You only delayed it a little bit. A death is owed."
"Not Buffy!" Spike caught her to him.
"No," said Rose. "She is what that death was supposed to buy. Someone else."
"Not Spike!" Buffy had one arm around Spike's neck, the other about his waist, holding him fiercely. "He didn't ask for any of this!"
Spike looked down at her tenderly and tried to move her away. "If that's what's needed, pet, to keep you alive..."
Rose smiled at both of them gently. "It's all right, children. You don't understand. It's Willow's debt. She's the buyer. She's the one who has to pay the price. The death must be that of one she cares about."
"Oh, no!" Willow exclaimed, seeing whom Rose was looking at now. "Not Tara!"
Rose said nothing.
"Please, no!" Willow was crying hopelessly. "I'll do anything! Please, not Tara!"
Rose came and put her arms around her reassuringly. "We'll find a way. We have a little time. All of us in the coven, we'll find a way to avert it."
"I'll go to England. I'll do anything you want. It's not Tara's fault. It's mine! We've got to stop it!"
Willow flung a hand out to Tara. "You'll come too, won't you, Tara? You'll come with me."
Tara caught her hand and they clung together. "Of course I will, sweetie. Anywhere. You know that."
"Even choosing to come to England might change things," said Rose thoughtfully. "Where do you live, Willow?"
"We'll start there. We've got to make sure any spells you may have set running are deactivated." She moved them gently towards the door, then stopped short suddenly. "Haven't you learned your lesson yet, boy?"
Xander jumped. "What?"
"He's still thinking of calling in this other vampire. What's his name? Angel?"
Xander jerked away guiltily. "I wasn't!"
Rose looked at Buffy and Spike. "This one doesn't give up. You two really should claim each other. That would put a stop to all these nasty machinations."
"Rose!" gasped Giles.
"They're already linked, Rupert. That would just make it official and avoid a great deal of trouble."
"He's a vampire! He doesn't have a soul! And she's a Slayer!"
"Fiddlesticks. She'll be his soul once they're claimed."
"What's a claim?" asked Xander, bewildered.
"They really don't know anything about vampires, do they? Really, Rupert. What have you been teaching them all these years? They should know their enemy. Come along, dear," she said to Xander, drawing him along with the rest of them, "and let me explain the facts of life."
"The Council..." Giles was muttering as they went out the door.
"Don't tell them," shrugged Rose.
Buffy turned to Spike who was staring at the closing door, his mouth open. "What's a claim?"
He snapped his mouth shut, then rubbed his face ruefully with both hands, as if trying to wake up. "You wouldn't want that."
"Wouldn't I? How would I know that unless you tell me what it is."
"It's a...it's like a marriage."
"It would bind us together. Permanently. Forever. A claim's irreversible, pet. Only death breaks the link. You wouldn't want that."
He reached out and just shaped the curve of her face with his hand, but without touching her, his fingers trembling a fraction of an inch from her skin. His gaze slid wistfully over her face, his eyes helpless.
"I'd give anything for it. To belong utterly to you? For you to belong utterly to me? God, yes! I want it. But then I love you, Buffy. You don't love me."
"I love you, Spike."
He was shocked into absolute stillness, his hand frozen in the air, his eyes wide, lips parted on a lost, disbelieving breath.
She stepped forward, leaned into him, her arms closing tightly around him under his duster. He made an odd, little, inarticulate sound in his throat. Then his arms fell about her, crushing her to him.
She kissed that astonished mouth.
"What? How...?" he mumbled.
"Step by step, ever since they resurrected me. Fighting it all the way. But you were the only one I could rely on. The only one I could laugh with and fight with and trust with anything. You made me feel, even when I didn't want to feel. You made me care, even when I didn't want to care. I care about you, Spike. I love you."
She kissed him and he kissed her back helplessly, his hands drifting over her hair, her face, her shoulders, with rigidly controlled delicacy, as if he were afraid to touch her in case she vanished under his hands.
"And then when Xander said that thing about Angel? I realized that I didn't want Angel. Hadn't wanted him for ages. I wanted you."
"I'm dreaming," he whispered.
They kissed, his mouth eating her alive while his hands slid delicately, disbelievingly over her. She leaned against him, her hands clenching over his back, drowning in the long slides of his tongue against hers.
"The way you feel," she sighed. "Want you to claim me."
She felt the racking shudder that went through him. He leaned his forehead against hers, looking at her earnestly, his eyes flaring with heat and intensity.
"Buffy, be sure. There's no going back. Only death breaks the claim. And the death of one always means the death of the other. That's why Rose said it would put a stop to Xander's plans about contacting Angel. Wouldn't matter if he did."
"Angel or Xander can't kill you without killing me? Good!"
"No, pet, think. You're a Slayer. I'm a vampire..."
Trying to do the right thing again. She kissed him, smiling.
"Don't care. We'll work around it."
"Giles, the Council..."
"I want to be yours," she said simply. "I want you to be mine."
All resistance vanished, as she had known it would. She laughed softly and pushed at his duster.
He let it fall onto the ground behind him. "Never could hold out against you," he muttered.
She drew him up the stairs and into her room. As she closed the door behind them, he stopped, staring at the bed.
"Makes a change, right?" They had always made love in his bed before.
Then she saw the awed look on his face. No, she was wrong. He had made love; she had had sex. Now she was letting him in. Into her room, into her bed, into her life...
"Into my heart," she whispered.
They kissed fiercely, hands running delicately over each other, stroking away each other's clothes, drifting with pleasure over each other's skin. His eyes were dazed when he looked down at her, his eyelids heavy, his mind somewhere off in a haze of wonder.
She ran her hands over his naked body, relishing that beautiful musculature, caught the firm globes of his ass and pulled him demandingly against her.
"Could bounce a quarter off your ass."
He blinked, then his eyes flared wide with laughter. Suddenly he was all there, vivid and wicked and laughing.
"There you are," she said with satisfaction.
"Raunchy bint, aren't you?"
"Yes. No frigging perfect Slayer up on a pedestal. This is me, Buffy. Kickass, earthy, raw, make-tons-of-mistakes Buffy, who is freaking in love with you and gonna eat you alive!"
"Not if I get there first."
He picked her up and threw her onto the bed, fell on top of her. They coiled around each other like snakes, laughing. She arched to him, loving his weight upon her, the way his body covered her, moved against hers, friction building a rapturous spiral of rising sensation.
"More than sensation," she said fiercely and saw by the absolute joy in his eyes that he knew it. No more sadness. "God! Love you so much, Spike!"
She had never let it be more than sensation before. But now every touch, every glance, every muttered word of endearment went deeper than the body and caught at the heart. And, oh, God, how much sweeter it was!
His tongue had gone raspy. She saw his eyes dancing with laughter as he worked her with it, breasts and belly and pelvis, deliberately teasing her, driving her crazy.
"Claim," she groaned. "Want you to..."
His lips slid across her throat, then she felt his fangs lightly on her neck over the bite mark already on the vein. His fangs slid into her and she felt that singing rapture start as he drew delicately at her blood.
"Mine," he whispered.
"Oh, yes, yours!"
He turned his head a little, allowing her access to his neck. She hadn't known how to make a claim, but this just seemed so simple and natural and right. She bit him at the junction of his neck and his shoulder, sucked at the blood that welled up.
"Mine," she said firmly.
"Always yours," he sighed and came into her, deep and smooth.
Something flared, locked into place between them, the same way their bodies fused. She could feel him suddenly, all that love and passion and tenderness, felt him feel her loving him and the blaze of pure joy that went through him. Their mouths locked and their bodies locked and their minds locked. She understood dimly now why Rose had said that she would be his soul once they were claimed. They were one being, sharing everything.
They drove each other higher and higher, bodies thrusting and straining together, while the claim threw every sensation back and forth in mind-blowing passes, fusing them together until she didn't know where she stopped and he began. She felt him shudder and pulse within her as he came, fell over the edge herself, both their minds blanking right out in helpless ecstasy.
"I'm so happy," she whispered, holding him tightly as he was holding her. "Don't need Heaven any more. Got it right here."
"Oh, pet." His face pressed hard against hers. "Me too."
"Finally woke up."
Woke up to what they were—partners, lovers, the dearest of friends. He was the other side of herself. They fit like hand in glove and the claim only made that official. As Rose had said, they had already been linked.
She could feel him picking up that thought, felt him smile against her cheek.
"I was always yours," he said.
She had fought that idea. But now it seemed so absolutely right. They were meant for each other, two halves of one transcendent whole.
"This is perfection," he said and she wrapped her arms even tighter about him.
"Yes," she said, kissing him lovingly.
A/N: Thank you for all the lovely reviews! It makes all the work worthwhile. Three little words - 'I liked it' - and it totally makes my day!